Posts Tagged: The Ark Church

Please Count!

Whether it is self preservation or ego that makes us do it, most pastors/members I know fudge slightly on the high side when it comes to their church attendance numbers. I don’t believe people do this maliciously or to intentionally deceive but innocent or not this self-deception regarding church attendance numbers is detrimental to the growth of the church.

If we don’t know our actual numbers we can be deceived about the health and growth of the church. I first realized this when I was a member of a very large church many years ago. To my casual eye and I am sure to most the members eyes this church seemed like a healthy growing church. There always seemed to be a healthy number of folk filling the pews each week. The foyer seemed crowed before and after church. The quality of the service was great. If someone had asked me, “Are you a member of a growing church?” I would have responded with a firm, “Yes!” But one day I thought to myself, “I don’t remember seeing very many baptisms at this church in the last few years.” And I began to question, “Is this church really a growing church?”

I decided to do a little research and what I discovered was this: at the beginning of the year we had just finished the church membership was 3000…now a couple months into a new year the church membership was…wait for it…3003. The church had grown by a net gain of 3 people in more than a year. I was astonished, I was disappointed, I was sad. I thought I was a member of a growing church. What I discovered is that I was a member of a very kind, a very busy, a high quality church…but not an evangelistic, growing church.

When we count (this is especially for the pastors) we are forced to take a true account of whether or not we are leading our churches to be healthy growing communities. If we don’t count, we can remain deceived; thus limiting the urgency to develop the evangelistic fervor needed within every church.

Now there are always those that will resist the value of counting.

They will say:

“Numbers don’t matter!” I would respond, “That if we see each number as representing an individual that Jesus died for, then they certainly do matter!!”

They will say:

“We shouldn’t be driven by numbers!” I would respond, “I agree. We should be driven by the heart of Jesus wanting to reach lost sheep. And one of the only ways to know if this is happening is to count.”

They will say:

“Numbers are relative.” I would respond, “They are indeed! A church of 16 that adds 3 new members in a year should celebrate. A church of 3000 that adds 3 new members in a year should recalibrate.”

Please count! Count every Sabbath to see if you are growing.

Then after you finish counting, start analyzing. There is no point in gathering data, unless you’re going to use that data to help improve in specific areas.

Due to the fact that we don’t just count at our church, we also analyze; these numbers take on extra value to our ministry. Let me give an example.

This past year, 2013, our average attendance was 356 individuals attending per week; that was an improvement of 16 people per week over the previous year. We are growing. Not as much as I believe we could, but we are growing. There is more though to those numbers than just growth; as we analyze the numbers we see that our 1st service grew by an average of 15 people, and our 2nd service grew by an average of 1. This has helped us to have discussions about what is appealing to people about first service and what may be unappealing to folk about second service? What are the demographics of the two services? Is the 1st service growth new member/visitor growth or long time members just choosing to go earlier in the day? All this is looked at because we count.

Also because we count we have found that we are unhealthy as a church in some areas. Last year we baptized or brought in through profession of faith 60 new people. Yet our average attendance for the year was only up 16 people per week. Our attendance definitely increased after all those baptisms, but that means we were actually a little below the previous years averages prior to the baptisms. Why was this? What was happening? Also, are we keeping all our new baptisms? Yes, for the most part we are. Then that means previous members are no longer attending as much? Who? And why not? We discuss this, look at this, try to work on this, and we know about all this; why? Because we count.

Another area counting has helped is that based on the data collected the past five years, analysis tells us  there are 4 months that are exceptionally high months of church attendance & three months that are exceptionally low in attendance. So what do we do with this information? We schedule for our strengths. We don’t actually try to improve the attendance for the months that are low; five years is enough to show us that these are months that folk just don’t attend church. Rather than wasting time trying to get people there those months we accept reality and instead focus on growing the average months the rest of the year. We also take advantage of the exceptionally high months by making those services as evangelistically appealing as possible. How many churches plan big events in months that are traditionally low and then wonder why no one showed-up? Too many I’m afraid! Why? Because they don’t count.

Has this made you decide to count?

I hope so, because…

…a lack of counting will lead to acceptance and even an over glorification of the status quo.

A lack of counting can prevent growth.

A lack of counting thwarts strategic planning.

A lack of counting may cause you to miss the members that are missing even though you’re adding new folk all the time.

A lack of counting is dangerous and hopefully after you’ve read this blog…

…a lack of counting is something you’ll never have to worry about again!

Please count! It will make a difference!


Our Growth Part 3

In this final post of this blog series on the growth of The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church I will be looking at some of the specific things we will be focusing on moving forward in order to place us in the best position to continue to receive & handle the blessings of God’s growth in this community. This blog will probably we a little more specific and not as broad as the other two, but I believe there are still principles that I’ll be sharing that can be applied in any and all settings.

In part 1 we looked at some of the principles behind the growth of the Visalia SDA Church.
In part 2 we looked at some of the reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.

And now for the third and final part (Sorry it took so long, I got sick and then the holidays but here it finally is):

What about the next five years?

Prayer. Yes, I want to start in the exact same spot I started the other two lists. It is vital for our continued growth that we continue our focus and emphasis on the power and importance of prayer. We will continue to look for ways to facilitate more prayer, encourage the participation in corporate prayer, recruit more prayer warriors. I’ve spent quite a ‘bit of time on this subject in the other two posts so I won’t say more here, simply this has to remain a priority. It can’t be something we did and then move on from!

What happens when I’m gone? This has been a question on my mind a lot lately. I’ve observed far too often within our denomination that a church may be doing well, then the pastor leaves and everything slows way down or even ceases completely until the next pastor rolls around. Attendance drops, evangelism is nonexistent, the church goes into maintenance mode. I am asking myself heading into 2014 and beyond, “if this is my last year at this church are we in a position to thrive in the absence of a Senior Pastor or under the leadership of a new Senior Pastor?” I want to be thinking and working on behalf of my successor. I want to make sure that when I’m gone systems are in place that are not pastor dependent. That a clear vision is established which is owned by the membership of the church and not just in the heart of the leader, a vision though that is based on principles that should be universal and embraced by all Seventh-day Adventist ministers, thus flexible to the ideas of the new leader. As leaders I think it is our responsibility to think about the well being of our churches not just when we are here but after we are gone as well. We need to think about our colleagues that will come after us and what we are leaving behind. So this is a goal we’ll be working towards.

Sabbath School: Sabbath School, you know that time that is the least attended activity at church (in North America)…oh wait sorry, that is the prayer meeting, the second least attended activity at church (how depressing and pathetic both those realities are!), it has been a burden on my heart recently. The scriptures say this, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15. This text of course has been applied almost exclusively to the idea of personal Bible study, and personal Bible study is very important! But as I was taught in Seminary and as I have read in Christian literature, most of what was learned and understood Biblically in the Biblical era was not done in isolation! In fact Jesus when He was a boy in the temple was participating in a Bible study. A discussion on the scriptures, questions asked, answered, leading to more questions (“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Luke 2:46, 47). We don’t do enough of this anymore! Sabbath School is a venue in which this should be done. I’ve also been convicted about this based on the reality of where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing significantly in the world. As I’ve had privilege to do a little traveling, what I have observed is that Sabbath School is well attended in the countries where our church is really thriving, in fact in some of these places Sabbath School attendance is higher than church attendance. Our Sabbath Schools in the United States may not look like theirs overseas, but the principle I believe still can be applied. Good things happen when folk get together to study the Word of God, emphasis on together, and the sermon time does not count, that is one person who has studied sharing with others what he or she studied, upon which most will go home and still not study it out for themselves to see if he or she was accurate in their studies. We need Sabbath School and I have a desire to see it thrive in my churches (The Ark & Visalia SDA). I’m not sure how yet, but this will be a focus!

Lost Sheep: I’ve heard it said that if we reclaimed all those that have simply stopped associating with the Adventist church our membership would be double in the United States. Here is the sad truth if we reclaimed those that just don’t attend, then our attendance would be double for sure (yep only 50% actually much less on average of the Seventh-day Adventist Church membership attend church from week to week). Here is something Jesus said, “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:

“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” –Matthew 10:5-7.

We know that Jesus had a passion for the Gentiles, we know that He had a special plan for reaching them (read the book of Acts), but I also see in scripture that Jesus had a special burden in His heart for those that were raised in the truth, had known the truth, and yet were not walking with Jesus. I haven’t, in fact I still struggle with this burden, but I want to be like Jesus and I feel that I should have a deeper commitment to reaching this group of folk, “the lost sheep of Israel” aka former or inactive Adventists. This will be a special focus for us in the years ahead. We have already seen some success in this area without being intentional about it, I want us to be intentional and see what happens!

Getting beyond 10%: You may have heard the statistic, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The new reality in churches is that 10% of the people do 100% of the work. We must help folk to understand that one of the privileges of membership is responsibility! I don’t find a single story in all of scripture about a true disciple of Jesus that went to church once a week and then went home, had lunch, took a nap, did yard work on Sunday, went to their paying job during the week, clean the house Friday, and back to church Sabbath and considered this an acceptable pattern for a follower of Jesus. There is not a story in scripture that even remotely follows that pattern, then why on earth do so many of our members find this type of Christianity acceptable blows my mind! Yes that is a rebuke to any that may be reading this and saying, “hey that sounds like me.” Jesus said very clearly, we are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless. He also said we are to “GO” and witness. Paul said that we are all members of one body, and just as one body has many parts we are all separate parts to the same body and that a part is not actually part of the body if it is not functioning. And James said, that if our faith doesn’t display itself in actual works for the Lord then we really don’t have any faith. And in the book of Revelation the folk that are the marturos–witnesses. I want to know exactly how many of our members are actually serving Jesus in a proactive intentional way and then I want to grow each year on that 10% or so that it is and see lives saved and thus the church grow!

Small Groups: This is different than Sabbath School, though part of this can occur at Sabbath School time. But if we’re going to get bigger then we must simultaneously get smaller or more connected, this will only happen through Small Groups. The book of Acts is very clear, there were two aspects of the early Christian Church “house to house” gatherings and larger “temple” (corporate) gatherings (Acts 2:46). Ellen White wrote this,

“The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members but for unbelievers also.” (Evangelism p. 115).

A church will grow if the members are split into small groups to worship and serve together. I have yet to see a thriving small group ministry in a Seventh-day Adventist church. If you are reading this and you are in an Adventist church with a “thriving” small group ministry, please contact me! But we will continue to work at it. I believe there is plenty of evidence Small Groups are Biblical!

I am sure there are a million more things we could work on, but if this is my last year in Visalia (which I pray it is not) this is the direction I pray God will get us moving in.

Thanks for taking the time read these three blog posts. I pray that they have been beneficial to you and that you will be able to apply for sure the principles and possibly even some of the specifics that we have been focused on here in Visalia.

Remember The Church is the Body of Christ which means if your church is lifeless, if it isn’t growing, it isn’t functioning, it isn’t reaching the lost, and loving on everyone, well then it is not really the church and it is definitely not the body of Christ. But don’t despair make a decision now to see that begin to change. Even if you are the only one in your church that is committed to see your church become the Body of Christ again, Jesus will honor your commitment and work with you to bring that desire into reality!

Keep praying, keep studying, keep serving. May Jesus be glorified through the Seventh-day Adventist family!

Our Growth Part 2

If you did not read yesterdays post, I would encourage you to go and do so now. Yesterday, I shared with y’all some reasons I believe our church was put in a position to grow over the past five years. I didn’t get too detailed but tried to stay broad enough so that individuals could apply the principles to their own church as needed.

In today’s post I want to share with you the reasons why I believe we didn’t grow MORE. Yep, we had tremendous growth for an English speaking Adventist church in North America, but was there something left on the table? I’m convicted that there was. So here is the underbelly of our church; I pray this post will help y’all to avoid some of our same pitfalls or maybe to be honest with yourselves about where your church is lacking in order that things may be changed and Jesus may be glorified.

Why We Didn’t Grow More:

Prayer! Yep, that is right prayer! I said yesterday that our emphasis on prayer was the primary factor regarding our church growth. How then can prayer also be something that kept us from growing? Well, prayer didn’t keep us from growing, more accurately a lack of prayer I believe kept us from growing. Our prayer ministries has expanded in tremendous ways over the last five years. We’ve moved from a handful of prayer warriors to 70+ prayer warriors. Yet, it still seems like we are so far from where God wants us to be. Read this quote from Ellen White:

As a church, we have received great light. This light the Lord has entrusted to us for the benefit and blessing of the world. To us has been given the ministry of reconciliation. With power from on high we are to beseech men to be reconciled to God. We are encouraged to pray for success, with the divine assurance that our prayers will be heard and answered. “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19, 20). “Ask of Me, and I will answer your requests.” The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer. The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another.—Letter 32, 1903, p. 5.

Mrs. White is writing about the growth of The Seventh-day Adventist Church and she says, “The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer.” This past year I have had the privilege to do ministry on both sides of our country, in the summer I was in New York City and in the fall I was in Hawaii. While visiting both of these places I attended churches that I have read about and heard about…non-Adventist churches. In New York I went to prayer meeting at The Brooklyn Tabernacle, in Hawaii, I attended New Hope. What impresses me so much about both of these churches is their commitment to prayer…not the leadership talking about it, not books being read about prayer, the people actually coming together to pray. While Christina and I were there on the island there was a major issue taking place and New Hope called a prayer meeting…THOUSANDS showed up to pray. In Brooklyn I arrived early, were the stories true? Do people really come out to prayer meeting early just to pray? Yes they do, hundreds and hundreds of people were there starting at 5 p.m. to pray, even though the actual prayer meeting doesn’t start ’till 7 p.m.. I don’t agree with what these two churches teach on several points, I didn’t love the worship style at either, though I was blessed by both, but I would not dare to denigrate their growth because I saw with my own two eyes memberships that were committed to prayer…not the few…the majority. Could it be God is blessing these churches walking in some errors because they are “united in prayer”? I trust what Mrs. White wrote & believe our church would have grown more if the majority, not the minority of our membership were united in prayer!


Staff Transitions. When good staff leave, even if those transitions were necessary in some way there is going to be a time of unsettlement within the church. As I stated in my previous post I was blessed the moment I arrived at Visalia to work with people extremely gifted in their areas of ministry. But as is often the case there are differences with transition of leadership and sometimes those differences can not be reconciled. Well we went through that in back to back years and it caused some unease within our church. Which is an absolutely normal response. We saw over the second year of transition our only down year in local giving (this year we’ve recouped what we were behind last year and increased local giving by more than $100,000). We had another transition this past Spring, but that was due to a relocation and transitions like that seem to be much more readily accepted. This probably isn’t one that anyone can necessarily avoid. Staff transitions are a part of life within and without of the church, the previous administration shared with me that in his time as Senior Pastor two individuals that had been here prior to him transitioned out under his leadership, and I’m sure when God decides to move me on there will be other transitions in regards to our team then as well. For the purposes of this blog I would say that in times of transition growth may slow, but don’t panic! Stay the course, be faithful, God will see you through.


Our growth. That is right I believe our growth stifled our growth. Let me give you three examples of how I saw our growth stifle growth. First, we were not equipped to handle some of the growth that occurred and thus rather than having opportunities in place for these new people to immediately begin evangelizing their friends and family…they sat and in some cases their enthusiasm waned. This was a leadership failure that we have tried to rectify in our most recent wave of growth. Second, our members became content. There was a time when a large percentage of our members were inviting friends and family to attend our church on a regular basis. I think when we grew & became crowded folk no longer saw “the need” and their evangelistic fervor began to dissipate. Third, we didn’t adjust quickly enough. You may have heard of the 80% rule, if your parking lot or sanctuary is 80% full then growth will be stifled. At the peak of our early growth (we are picking-up momentum again) we didn’t make room for the people quickly enough. We eventually started a second campus & a second service but we did it all, especially the second service about a year too late! Our hesitancy caused our growth to sputter. Y’all if you’re growing and your room is filling-up don’t get scared of the naysayers, ACT quickly and decisively.


Sin. Sin has prevented us from growing more in the last five years than we should have. And I won’t point the finger anywhere else on this one as I don’t know anyone else’s heart but my own. I have come to firmly believe that the sins of leader effect the corporate body. Now I’m not talking about occasional misdeed here and there, I’m talking about cherishing pride. Holding resentment & bitterness in ones heart. Neglecting personal private time with God in prayer and Bible study. Not having enough faith in the vision God has placed on my heart. Laziness. Fear. Over the course of the last five years I have gone through stages of these areas, and while I am not consciously aware of these sins influencing my decisions or limiting growth, based on my knowledge of scripture I believe they all have at times. Leaders your church can’t grow unless you’re growing in your relationship and love for Jesus!


Facilities. I already mentioned above the 80% percent rule, Dr. Russell Burrill writes that in the Adventist Church this rule is not just limited to sanctuary seating & parking space, but also to Sabbath School space, especially within the Children’s departments. Well we have more than exceeded the 80% rule. It used to just be our Cradle Roll and Kindergarten classes that were packed to the gills, but now Cradle Roll through youth is full, we have even run out of room for conducive adult studies. If Dr. Burrill’s statement is accurate, which I assume it is as it was based on research, then our growth has been stunted a little from that every single year.


A lack of volunteers. We have great volunteers, some of the most amazing people I have ever had the opportunity to serve with, a huge reason for our growth over these years. But we don’t have 100% or even 80% or even 50% of our members volunteering; I would say we are more around 33% of our members regularly volunteering or giving at least 1 hour in a month (it should be 1 hour a week to really thrive). I think this is a fairly simple truth: if you want your church to grow get more people serving! That is easier said then done, at some point it has to be a member standing-up and saying, “here I am Lord send me!” Service to the Lord is a heart thing and since each member is a part of the Body of Christ, if the heart (the members hearts) is not pumping out blood (actively, regularly serving) the body will not operate at maximum efficiency. Most our churches are not operating at maximum efficiency! With each member that gets involved the church has a little better shot of increasing its growth. I’m sure that this is one area that minimizes the growth of every church, because I know of NO church where 100% of the members are involved in service to Jesus. We must not accept this though, we must be committed to the ideal; continuing to struggle, urging, and even pleading when necessary for more help from the laity.


These are the reasons I believe over the last five years we have not grown more. I pray that the points made in this blog will help you as you help to put your church in a position to receive the Lord’s blessing of growth! Tomorrow I’ll be posting on what specific things we plan to look at in the years ahead to continue and exceed our current growth.


Thanks for reading and please share with your friends and pastors if you think it will be a blessing to them!





Our Growth Part 1

I am hesitant to write about the growth of our church, The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church, for fear that it is arrogant or presumptuous to assume anyone would want to know what is happening here in Visalia, California. There is also the recognition that Jesus ultimately brings the growth and to try and label that growth through any other means is foolishness.

In regards to the first concern I read many blogs, many books, many articles from non-Adventists about why their churches are growing, and I learn from these materials. Within our own denomination there is very little material relating to this topic. (There are a few books, like “The Big Four” by Dr. Joseph Kidder which I would highly recommend, but that is one of few). I believe this reality is unfortunate because there is a danger when we only read non-Adventist church growth materials: We may be tempted to say, “we have to be just like this,” Which I have found in our subculture just does not work. Or we can go to the other extreme and say, “we can’t do any of this,” and thus we never try.

In regards to the second concern I believe with all my heart that Jesus brings the growth of a church and that church growth can actually happen at any time in any place and that church growth can also fail to happen even when all the best things are happening. That said, I see how Jesus uses strategy, focus, vision, intentionality in powerful ways to make a difference for the growth of His Kingdom.

So this blog is an attempt to talk about Church Growth from an Adventist perspective with the recognition that even what I share is not possible unless Jesus brings the harvest!

This in fact will be a three part blog. Today I will look at some of the things that have put our church in a position to grow over the last five years. Tomorrow I will look at why I believe our church hasn’t grown more over the last five years. Then in part 3 on Wednesday I will share with you some of the things we are going to focus on moving forward to further place ourselves in a position to grow.

So what are the credentials of this church that make me believe we are in a position to talk about church growth? I will give you a quick laundry list.

  1. This is not a scientific statement and I have no idea the veracity of this statement but I have been told by a number of individuals within the Pacific Union Conference that our church is one of the fastest if not the fastest growing (Caucasian–more on this later) English speaking churches in this Union.
  2. In the last five years our attendance has grown 133%
  3. Our membership has had a net increase of 243 individuals after you take away transfers out and deaths.
  4. Some have assumed that this growth has been primarily transfer growth, this would be an inaccurate assumption: Transfers In: 165 Baptisms & Professions of Faith: 180 (we’ve baptized more than that but more on this later as well).
  5. Our Giving to the world church has increased since 2008 from $550,000 annually to over $800,000; Our local giving over those same years increased from roughly $370,000 to this year we will go over $600,000 in local giving.

So those are the statistics, for what they’re worth. And now to the focus of this blog post.

What have we done here in Visalia, CA to put ourselves in the position for God to bless and grow this church?

Prayer. I could not start this section without stating that very clearly, so let me say it again. I attribute what has happened at Visalia to the foundation of prayer that has been and is being built. I would love to say that this foundation was due to the deep spirituality of the pastor! 🙂 The truth is I was like I am sure many pastors are, I worked first and prayed later. I gave token platitudes to prayer, but I did not really emphasize prayer. I had however a lady in this church, Katy, that from the first day I arrived in Visalia did some friendly nagging (I know nag is not a nice word, but I can’t think of a better word). She was persistent in encouraging me to focus more on prayer. She practically forced a prayer partner on me. She gave me books to read about prayer. But most of all she prayed that her pastor would pray more. Well, the Lord answered her prayers and prayer–our communication with Jesus & receiving His power has become the foundation of what we do in Visalia. How has this looked? We’ve been intentional about placing prayer partners with our key leaders. We have folk that pray every morning before church starts and another group that prays Sabbath afternoon at our sister campus The Ark before their services begin. We have a ladies group that prays Wednesday mornings together for the prayer requests that come in each Sabbath. Recently we spent 40 days as a church praying every morning at 7:14 a.m. & every evening at 7:14 p.m.. As we came out of those 40 days we decided to continue with our prayer gatherings in the morning and so every single morning our church is open for folk to gather together to pray. Every single person that is connected to our church whether member or not is on a list and is prayed for weekly by one of our 70+ prayer warriors. We preach about prayer regularly. We’ve sent out more than 300+ books on two separate occasions focused on prayer (“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala & “Draw the Circle” by Mark Batterson). In other words we’ve made prayer foundational to what we do & we try to keep this before our people!

Ellen G. White’s strategy for church growth. Specifically the books, “Gospel Workers” & “Evangelism” have been books that I constantly go back to to discover principles on reaching people for Jesus! I heard the story when I was in Seminary and you may have heard it too: There was an Adventist doctoral student from Fuller Theological Seminary that was doing some research and he went to visit Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho (formerly David Yungi Cho) in South Korea. Cho is the founding pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church the largest church in the world with close to 1 million members. While this doctoral student was discussing with Pastor Cho the phenomenal growth of his church, Pastor Cho discovered that the student was a Seventh-day Adventist, he dismissed himself went back into his personal office and returned with two books in hand, the books were “Gospel Workers” & “Evangelism” by Ellen G. White. He told the student that he should be familiar with the principles of church growth applied at Yoido Full Gospel Church as they were taught by Ellen White. (On a side note I’ve always wondered how Pastor Cho came upon these books, this past summer a pastor I work with here in Central California Conference that is from South Korea informed me that Pastor Cho for a short time attended our Adventist University in Korea, which is surely where he came across those books). I recalled this story I had learned years ago and I began to thoroughly go through these books & to apply the principles that I learn in them. The methods don’t always work, it was a different culture that she wrote in, but the principles still are from God and still will bless your church. Something else I discovered as I went through these books is that I see the principles of the “Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren (a book I read and have been blessed by) in Mrs. White’s writings. This should teach us something; we should be careful not to condemn everything outside our own walls…we may find ourselves condemning the very things Jesus affirmed through our prophet over a hundred years ago. If our churches aren’t growing shouldn’t it make us sit-up and take notice that the largest church in the world is using principles from our prophet to grow & that the number one church growth book in our nation, “The Purpose Driven Church” is also writing about those very same principles Mrs. White wrote about so long ago. Why then are we not digging into these two books to learn more? That is something we have done and it is blessing our church!

Staff. I was blessed when I arrived here in Visalia to immediately be surrounded by gifted individuals that were doing a tremendous job in their particular areas of ministry. We have since had some transitions, yet we as a church have made an intentional effort to continue to staff our church with a tremendous group of individuals and we do all that we can to allow them to thrive in their particular ministry areas. Now I know this is a more challenging task for most churches since they are not in a position to have “staff.” So for those churches that are unable to have “staff” I would recommend at least one specific team member that you hire. And that would be a prayerful “true” Bible Worker. I say prayerful because Bible Working is tough work, rejection is more common than success, and thus an individual truly needs to be in continual prayer to have real success in their endeavors. I say “true” because there are a lot of individuals that have gone through Bible Worker training but their real objective is to be the next David Asscherick, Nathan Renner, or Taj Pacleb. All great guys, all friends of mine, all tremendous soul winners. But for a Bible Worker in your church you don’t want copy cats of these men. You want someone that wants to be a Bible Worker! They are individuals that want to be out there knocking on doors, giving one on one Bible studies, connecting with all your guests, pestering your members to go on studies with them. There are a number of churches here within my own conference that baptize one or less than one on a consistent year by year basis. To all those churches I would say, “hire a Bible worker.” Cut whatever else you need to in your budget and hire a Bible Worker. Most Bible Workers are willing to work for $1500 a month plus a roof over their heads and some help with gas. A lot of conferences will help churches that are wanting to make this step as well. If I were to move to another church and I was the lone pastor the first hire I would make is a Bible Worker!

Quality. A fourth area I see that has put us in a position for such positive growth is that we are intentional about doing things well. We don’t always do things well, but it is not because we don’t try. I believe within Adventism there is a dearth of excellence or worse yet, there is a dearth even at the attempt of excellence. I don’t say this to be critical…yes I do…I think it is shameful that we are worshiping the God of the universe Sabbath after Sabbath and so many throw together worship services at the last minute without much thought or prayer. This is NOT Biblical! Read the Old Testament particularly the last four books of the Pentateuch and it is obvious that God cares very much about the details of worship! This doesn’t mean that services need to be elaborate, but the first time someone plays a hymn or sings a song shouldn’t be Sabbath morning as they are standing in front of the congregation. The person that is praying shouldn’t be an elder that happened to be early for church that Sabbath and was thus dragged up to fill in the role. And pastors we should NEVER wing it! Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. I am really passionate about this though and I believe that little things done right or at least an attempt at doing right make a huge difference.

It’s Not About Visalia Only! I mentioned above that we had baptized more than the 180 that are on our record books. The “more” that we have baptized have been individuals that have come to accept Jesus through the ministries of the Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church or by studying with one of our team or one of our members, but have chosen to be members at another Seventh-day Adventist Church for whatever reason. There have been more than a dozen folk that would fit into this category. I praise the Lord for this! Because we don’t want our growth to be only about us. My hearts desire is to see the Gospel to be spread far and wide and for all our Adventist churches to grow. Having this attitude has allowed us to say goodbye with grace to other members when they feel that God is calling them to serve in another church. Having this attitude has given us the opportunity to encourage our team and our Elders that are gifted in speaking to share their skills at other churches. Having this attitude has helped us to think valley wide when planning ministries. I believe having this attitude has opened the door for Jesus to bless us even more, because Jesus isn’t worried about just Visalia SDA growing, He cares about His Kingdom growing by whomever, wherever and He blesses those that feel and practice the same!

Demographics. We have also grown because our church has started to look more like our community. Our community is only 50% Caucasian in such an environment it would be foolish and unChristian to attempt to remain homogenous. I am firmly committed to the idea that a church that fails to look like its community will fail to grow. 

A willingness to change and endure the resulting conflict. In the last five years there have been a number of changes. Staff changes, adding a service, adding an entirely new campus. Changes in music. Changes in nominating committee process. Changes in the board structure. Changes in expectations of volunteers. Lots and lots of changes. Some have stuck, some have failed but in every change there has been push back. Just like in nature that which does not change, does not grow. In fact growth in and of itself is a change which has brought some challenges and conflict. A church that would rather stay the same than grow is not a church it is a country club, and last time I checked country clubs were not the body of Christ! Conflict is inevitable, I believe if our goal is to avoid conflict then growth is nearly impossible.

Intentionality. Doing things with purpose. Too much is done in churches without a true purpose. “Why is your children’s program run that way?” “Why do you start your church service at that time?” “Why is that person the leader of that ministry?” “Why do you have Pathfinders?” If the answer to any of these questions is, “because that is the way it has always been.” Then that is not intentionality. To be intentional is to have a reason for everything that you do. We have greeters trainings and elders retreats. We have a stewardship system that functions from week to week in a specific way for a specific purpose. Family Night. Friday Night Vespers. Whatever we do, there is a purpose behind it and when those things start to lose their purpose/impact, then we become “intentional” about closing them down or changing them. Most of us think through our lives with a lot more intentionality than we do our work for Jesus, even though our work for Jesus is the most important task we have on this earth.

Everything is evangelism! Finally, we have made it a point to keep before our people that the most important thing about a church is, “seeking and saving the lost.” We spend our money with this in mind. We shape our calendar with this in mind. We preach this. We urge this reality in the life of each person that joins our family. If you spend, work, and talk reaching people for Jesus, well then you’ll be more likely to reach people for Jesus.

As I was writing this blog I began to realize this list could go on and on (you may feel it already did:) ). We could talk about our Children’s Ministries, our local Adventist schools, our hospitality ministries, health ministries, etc.. But rather than get into specifics I wanted to focus on some things all churches no matter how big or small could do to help reach more people for Jesus’ family.

Tomorrow I will focus on some reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.

I hope you’ll join me!

The Ark Kids

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